Few are Chosen

Does the doctrine of election imply that only a chosen few will end up in heaven, and thus, the majority will go to hell? Does Matthew 7:13-14 conclusively support this notion?

Let us read what those verses say. Since Matthew 22:14 is also often mentioned in connection with this question, we will include it in our discussion.

Matthew 7:13-14 (NASB)
Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it.

Matthew 22:14 (NASB)
For many are called, but few are chosen.

The doctrine of election indeed teaches that only the chosen ones will end up in heaven, but the idea of election in itself does not tell us whether that number will be great or small, or whether it will be greater than the number of the reprobates.

When it comes to the number of those who have been chosen for salvation, Scripture promises that there will be many saved. For example, God said to Abraham, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars – if indeed you can count them….So shall your offspring be” (Genesis 15:5). Scripture teaches that God was referring to his spiritual offspring, and not his natural descendants.

Then, Revelation 7:9-10 reads:

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

So we know that many will be saved. Some people have mistakenly inferred that the number of those saved will be greater than those damned in the end, but these passages do not say this.

Many will be saved relative to zero, but the question is how many will be saved relative to the damned. The two verses from Matthew seem relevant. One says, “few are those who find it” and the other says, “few are chosen.” If these two verses address our question, then here is the answer: the number of the saved will be smaller than the number of the damned, and in fact much smaller, since Jesus makes the contrast between the “many” and the “few.”

There are those who assert that these two passages cannot function as a broad answer to our question. They claim that the context suggests that they address only the first century situation. However, I am unconvinced by this because I see no definitive indication that the context restricts their application this way. It appears these people assume that the saved must be more than the damned, so that they are determined to reach this conclusion even when the evidence does not favor it.

There are other arguments that are used to show that the number of the saved will be greater than the number of the damned, but they are ineffective.

For example, it is sometimes said that the number of the saved will be much greater than the damned because God will seize the “victory” in the end. He will never “lose” to Satan in the battle between good and evil, and over human souls. Some prominent Reformed theologians have used the argument.

This is silly – it is arbitrary and self-defeating. It is arbitrary because it assumes that “victory” in this situation is defined by numbers, but they fail to support this premise. It is self-defeating because if “victory” is defined by sheer numbers, then even if one person ends up in hell, it would mean that God has failed to obtain a complete victory over Satan. But many people are already in hell.

The argument has a certain dualistic flavor. It suggests that Satan is a mighty evil force with whom even God himself must contend, that God will win some and lose some, even if he wins more than he loses in the end.

Those who end up in heaven are saved because God has predetermined their salvation, and those who end up in hell are damned because God has predetermined their damnation. So how could God “lose” when all those who will end up in hell will be there only because he has decided beforehand to send them there? God could “lose” only if what he has foreordained fails to happen, or if what he has not foreordained happens anyway.

If some of those whom God has chosen for salvation fail to be saved and end up in hell, then we could say that God loses; or, if some of those whom God has chosen for damnation somehow end up in heaven, then God also loses. It is stupid to say that God loses if more people end up in hell than in heaven even if this is what he wants, and even if this is what he has predetermined to happen. In fact, if God had decided that every person should end up in hell, then we could say that he loses even if one person manages to enter heaven.

God wins if his will is done. Whether more people will end up in heaven than in hell in itself has no relevance to whether God “wins” or “loses,” but if what happens is what God has predetermined to happen, then he wins.

Postmillennialism, if shown to be biblical and relevant, might make it possible that the number of the saved will be greater than the damned. The doctrine teaches that, according to numerous biblical prophecies that apply before the return of Christ, there will be an extended period in which the gospel will increase in its success and influence, even in the hearts of men, such that it will dominate the world. It says that although the Christian faith will fluctuate in its influence throughout history, it will eventually overcome all oppositions to capture the hearts of many, and thus also penetrate all areas of society.

If postmillennialism is correct, then it is possible that more people will be saved than damned, that more will end up in heaven than in hell. This is only a possibility, because we must establish two things to make way for such a conclusion.

First, we must establish that the two passages from Matthew are indeed referring only to the first century situation. This has not been done. Second, we must establish that the period of time during which the gospel will dominate the hearts of men, and during which more people will become Christians than those who will remain non-Christians, will be very long. It must be long enough to compensate for all the previous centuries in which more people remained non-Christians (including false converts) than those who became Christians. This period will probably need to last hundreds or even thousands of years.

If the first cannot be established, then the second one becomes irrelevant. That is, if the two passages from Matthew say what they seem to say, and right now we have no reason to think otherwise, that as a general rule for all time, more people will remain unsaved than those who are saved, then this means that the period during which the gospel will dominate will not be long enough to put more people in heaven than in hell. Or, even if this period will be very long, not enough people will be born or converted to make the total number of people saved greater than the total number of people damned.

In any case, we are certain that all things will happen as God has predetermined, and therefore he “wins” even if more people will end up in hell than in heaven. If this is what happens, then this is what he wants to happen.